Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Obedience & groupthink: the Sahaj Marg example

Recent speeches by my former Sahaj Marg guru Chari have convinced me that `obedience' is worthy of being mentioned as a separate pitfall.

Although this blog aims at a general analysis of the pitfalls which commonly occur in many spiritual movements and religions, the example given in these speeches is stronger than anything I could possibly come up with myself.

Dear reader, perhaps you are participating in some spiritual movement, and some of the below sounds familiar. Please then ask yourself if you really wish to give up your own, independent thought to someone else? Especially since a true spiritual guide would never ask you to give up your own independent thought. A guide is a guide, guiding humans. A guide is not a shepherd herding sheep. Or do you prefer to be a sheep? Part of the unthinking flock? Fine. But then you will never be a master of yourself, now will you?


I quote from Chari's recent speech `Read with your Heart' (given 2 February 2009 in Satkhol, I emphasized the last paragraph in bold type):

`Again and again Babuji Maharaj emphasizes the fact that Sahaj Marg does not ask you for all your life earnings, to give up your family and go into the jungle. It is a very simple method: meditation in the morning, cleaning in the evening, prayer at night. No major sacrifices involved. Only to live a good life, in the right way, but with the only stipulation being obedience to the Master's wishes, and that again is only for our benefit.

We obey to benefit. Unlike in public life, in human life, in our day-to-day life, we obey for somebody else's benefit. In spirituality we obey for our own benefit. You obey; you benefit. You don't obey; you don't benefit. In obedience there can be no questions: "Why have I to obey?" If you ask such a question, it would probably mean several lives more to be taken before you understand why I have to obey. In obedience there is no `why'. There is no search for logic. There is no demand for your question to ask: "Why this question should be obeyed?" or "Why this order should be obeyed? Why does the Master have to tell me and not somebody else? Why does he ask me to obey and not somebody else?" No questions. Totally unquestioning obedience is the only requirement of this spiritual way that I know, Sahaj Marg. The moment you start asking questions, it is implicit that you are questioning the wisdom of your Master, the intentions of your Master and his existence itself - never done, except at the peril of your own evolution.'

Notice the not so subtle use of `fear and temptation' above. If you ask questions: it will probably cost you several lives! (fear). If you obey blindly: you benefit (temptation, the implication is `liberation in this life', whatever liberation may mean of course).


And I quote from his speech `Preceptors, the arteries of Sahaj Marg' (given 4 January 2009, Manapakkam, the bold type emphasis is mine):

`When Babuji says eat, you eat. When he says don't eat, you don't eat. You don't think.

One thing that our people must understand is, in obedience there is no place for thought. You are not to think whether this is to be obeyed or not. The Guru orders, you do it. The famous example in our mythology is Parashuram. When he said he was devoted and loved his father, his father said, "Will you do what I tell you?" He said yes. He said, "Cut off your mother's head." Chichick. And the head came off. Mother's head! - obedience.
Of course, then the father said, "I am pleased with you. Ask for a boon." He said, "I want my mother alive again." And the mother came alive again.

So, you see, obedience never gives you personal loss, though apparently it may look so.'


Sahaj Marg, like many movements before it (and after, no doubt alas), has turned into a religion, in my not so humble opinion. I see no difference at all between the organization of the Pyramid in Sahaj Marg and the Pyramid of the Roman Catholic Church. The preceptors are the priests, the centers-in-charge are the bishops, the zonals-in-charge are the cardinals, and the guru is the pope, each with their Inner Circle of powerful confidants.

Blind obedience imnsho is necessary to keep the whole Pyramid from toppling over, to maintain closed ranks to all the critical questions that are posed. Questions which are increasingly difficult to answer, because -like the child saying: new clothes? but the emperor is naked! - not even God can make the square root of 2 equal to π (pi). Not even the emperor can make imaginary clothes cover his nudity.

The point is -if one believes in God- that God saw to it that the square root of 2 is necessarily not equal to π (pi) . Logic, science, rationality are perhaps just a part of reality...but reality nonetheless. To deny critical self-reliant thought a worthy place is to renounce spirituality, in my not so humble opinion.

Many great scientists were deeply spiritual persons. They saw God in the wonder of reality all around us. They marveled at the insights that the human mind could glean into Nature, by not accepting religious dogmas and by following the logic of the cosmos. By allowing all questions, especially the critical ones, since the critical questions challenge what we think we know, and lead us further on our slow path of both scientific and spiritual evolution.


Spiritual evolution, that is what we need, if you would ask me. If we would have obeyed religious leaders in the past as blindly as Chari is suggesting, we would still be cannibals. Does one need religion to be kind, loving, sharing, concerned for other beings? Does one need blind obedience for this? Let's get real: we do not need anything, anyone, but our own commitment and dedication to becoming `spiritual'...whatever that may mean.


frank waaldijk said...

on elodie's blog i found this reference to more sahaj marg texts on obedience:

let me just examine one more fragment:

`We must have the attitude of the dog, love for the Master, faith in the Master, obedience of the Master. This is what an abhyasi is expected to have. We must become as if we are the perfect dog before Him. It eats when he gives it food. The perfect dog eats only when the master feeds it. If a stranger comes and gives something, it will not take. If the Master says "sit" and he goes away, three days later it must still be sitting there. When he says "come", it goes with him. It does not ask, "Where are you going? Why are you going? When will we come back home?" '

so, this type of text has always struck me as glaringly at odds with the supposed purpose of babuji, namely to create spiritual masters.

but there is a related interesting conclusion that i drew early on, during the time when i practiced sahaj marg. a conclusion based on personal experience.

i have been lucky to know some very special dogs. in terms of `heart', i often doubt that humans can compete with the steadfast love that a dog has for its human companions.

in fact, i don't see where to find a more trustworthy and (mostly) obedient, heartful creature than a dog. dogs are usually quite intelligent, and some can be amazingly intelligent.

if in chari's speeches one would fill in `dog', then it becomes obvious that dogs are the best abhyasis ever.

except for one little snag. a dog will never be a spiritual master, at least i don't think so.

this then reveals that there is a distinction between master and the common abhyasi. this distinction was explicit in babuji's time, but only known to a small inner circle of initiated associates, like chari and chari's father who was a senior official in the mission.

you read correctly: initiation was a closely held secret. but chari's father at one time chose to let this secret out in the open. this created commotion, and chari was very against it. you can read all about this in chari's diaries' publication called `in his footsteps'.

now let me turn to maxim 5 (you know from the 10 maxims of babuji) which starts out very clearly with:

be truthful

if you can rhyme this maxim with the existence of a secret initiation of close associates, then i have no doubt you can make the square root of 2 to be equal to pi as well.


so forget obedience. look for truth. real personal truth, not some cooked-up version serving other people's goals. dare to be a human being, instead of doing a poor imitation of a dog. you could always ponder the question:

if god had meant us to be doglike, then why not stick with dogs in the first place?

what then is the most distinguishing difference between dog and human? is it heart...or is it mind?

wouldn't that give a hint of what god was looking for when creating us?

just a simple question, it seems. but you now know that i sacrificed several of my lives just to pose it to you! so you see my noble, selfsacrificing attitude with this blog. i could have been liberated long ago, if i had just wagged my tail at my master!

Anonymous said...

I wiggle my tail while reading this. Can dogs read?


frank waaldijk said...

theo, remember my reply to your comment on the previous post? i said that a Leader hammering on obedience is a sure sign of problems with discipline, problems within the organization.

so a few days later it was funny for me to come across the following fragments of a recent speech by chari tot the zonals-in-charge here on elodie's blog. i will repeat it below, it illustrates our discussion perfectly.

chari's speech to zonals-in-charge, manapakkam 10 january 2009

"We have been very carefully selecting people to be preceptors, but more and more I find that in an anxiety to fill the panel saying in Gujarat, or in Andhra Pradesh or in Punjab, we are recommending people who would not be normally acceptable. This is one main cause of indiscipline. They don’t work, so we have a full list of preceptors running into thousands, and I don’t know whether even half of them are really working. (…) with two thousand six hundred preceptors, we should be able to grow without more preceptors (…).It should not be necessary for me to make two preceptors a day, continuously every day. It only means — I mean I could understand it if I see the quality rising. But like the recent incident in Nagpur: a preceptor manhandling an abhyasi; the classic case of Kanpur which has been a thorn in Babuji’s flesh ever since I joined the Mission. Kanpur was always a problem. It continues to be a problem. Why? What is wrong that these places do not change? There are other centres I don’t want to mention. Bombay centre: I don’t see any growth. We have so many preceptors there (…).Small centres have been literally blackmailing the organization by buying among themselves the land, and then saying, “You have to accept this now,” without permission, without approval. It is a very serious legal problem. Who is going to manage this?
You know, sometimes in my nightmares I see the Mission breaking up, and there will be two hundred and forty Shri Ram Chandra Missions: Haldoi, one; Gorakhpur centre, another Mission; Tiplur in Maharashtra. We have had a problem in Thrissur centre in Kerala state. Serious disciplinary problems — people refusing to go to a place for satsangh. It’s easy to say, “You are no longer abhyasis.” They will start a new centre, and you will have one more group sitting by itself. Karnataka started this unhappy episode. We have several groups in Karnataka, all claiming to be Babuji’s favourite centres — not with the Mission (…).Discipline has to be instilled from the beginning. I know nowadays preceptors give sittings to new abhyasis, you know, helter-skelter: one in the morning, one in the evening, next tomorrow morning, and they are abhyasis. They are not spoken to, they are not told about the Mission. They are not explained the philosophy, nor are they told what are the disciplinary requirements. That is why the Mission is growing so fast (…) So I wonder what has been my failure, that this is the result of the Mission today. (…) Let us come to the physical problems: non-attendance, linguistic chauvinism, you know. And during presence in the satsangh, half the people with their eyes open, cell phones ringing even here in Manapakkam. And when I have spoken two or three times, they put it on vibration mode, and when their thigh vibrates, they just look at it to note the number and… I know this is happening. I know it is happening in every centre (…).So discipline has to be personal. Each person has to be disciplined. It’s not enough to have a police force acting, you know. It is not enough (…).So, you see, discipline is the order of the day. Otherwise, you know what happens when there is uncontrolled growth of cells in the human body: it is cancer. And cancer means death, as we all know. If our organization is growing like that, as I seem to think it is, it is a cancerous growth: unguided, unprincipled, disobedient. (…) Too many of us are just sitting quiet, saying that Babuji’s will will prevail but Babuji has said his will can prevail only when we execute his will. When he passed away and I had to take charge, we have seen how much his will prevailed: when all the preceptors of those times refused to obey his nomination, and many had to be sacked out of hand. And many left because they were not approving what I did. There was every chance that when I became the President, this Mission would disintegrate, because there were powerful preceptors from Babuji’s times. (…)"

frank waaldijk said...

i illustrate this post on obedience & groupthink: the sahaj marg example with yet another example shedding light on the practical interpretation of truthfulness in sahaj marg.

please read the following excerpt from the srcm website, it is meant as an introduction for people interested in beginning the practice of sahaj marg:

`Chariji has often explained that the use of the word "master" in Sahaj Marg has nothing to do with some external hierarchical relationship, in which one person acts like a "boss" whose every order must be obeyed, and all others are mere lowly slaves.

In fact, Sahaj Marg Masters rarely give direct orders to others, and then only to advanced abhyasis, or when absolutely necessary. Instead, they tend to give subtle hints or general suggestions. Masters, as Babuji always insisted, come not to rule, but only to serve.'

you can easily compare the above statement with the recent speeches on obedience given by chari...and then i wonder if anyone can reconcile these statements?

so for newcomers in the beginning, this whole obedience thing is downplayed, minimized, and the sahaj marg master is presented as a guide, a servant even, whereas the real master is inside you.

i wonder why they are not told from the outset that

`Totally unquestioning obedience is the only requirement of this spiritual way that I know, Sahaj Marg. The moment you start asking questions, it is implicit that you are questioning the wisdom of your Master, the intentions of your Master and his existence itself - never done, except at the peril of your own evolution.' (quote from chari's speech)


Anonymous said...

My experience is he performs blackmagic on abhyasis, in numerous forms, when he feels followers are not dogs and it could be in many forms like manupulating of mind as on many occassions says i will speak my mind.It is most disastrous power he possess. And it could be warning in dreams about negative future and making it happen. Another trick of him is transmitting energy which every one can feel which will effecting one's health. So every one be careful of the blackmagic and if you there dont forget to eulogise him along with liberated souls so that he does not harm you. If any one feels abnormal change in mind then dont think it is samskara as ever one will tell, instead leave chariji as he is doing to teach? lesson.
Beaware of blackmagician

AjayS said...

The increase of faith and consequent constant remembrance of the Guru is the growth path of spirituality. How can a result be an initial requirement?